Here's The Deal … In front of a national TV audience, Cincinnati and NC State meet for the first time. For both, this could be the kind of crossroads game that catapults the winner and derails the loser. The Wolfpack and coach Tom O'Brien, in particular, need a breakthrough moment to offset the past few seasons of mediocrity. The Bearcats are still feeling their way through the Butch Jones era, waking up after a slow start to jet past Indiana State and even the record. In order to have any hope for a third-straight Big East championship, Cincy needs to show it's evolved from the Week 1 loss to Fresno State that raised all kinds of issues about its 2010 potential.
Why Cincinnati Might Win: No, the offensive engine hasn't started to hum on a consistent basis, but the ingredients are there for a potent attack. QB Zach Collaros has a quick trigger and an accurate arm, distributing the ball to Armon Binns, DJ Woods, and TE Ben Guidugli. While RB Isaiah Pead should be back from injury, reserves Darrin Williams and John Goebel played well in his place, averaging almost nine yards a carry. The Pack defense has had problems ever since O'Brien arrived, especially when it comes to stopping the pass. Neither the Catamounts nor the Knights provided much of a test for this group.
Why NC State Might Win: While QB Russell Wilson had an off day in Orlando, don't expect it to become a trend. He's just too good to play poorly in consecutive weeks. It helps that he has so many playmakers on the receiving end of his passes, including Owen Spencer, Jarvis Williams, T.J. Graham, and TE George Bryan. The last time Cincinnati played a quality opponent, Fresno State's Ryan Colburn carved it up for four touchdown passes. The Bulldogs also had eight sacks, exposing gaping holes in the Bearcat O-line.
What To Watch Out For: Cincinnati's issues up front could be exacerbated by an NC State defense that's attacking far more in 2010. One of the biggest beneficiaries has been LB Audie Cole, who's being used liberally on outside blitzes. In the win over UCF, he was in on 12 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, a sack, and a pick, which won't be lost on the Bearcat staff when it checks out film this week.
What Will Happen: Which offense is going to break through after experiencing some power outages in the early stages of the season? Cincinnati has the potential, but NC State has the closer thing to a sure-thing, Wilson. He'll relish a rare opportunity to play in front of a large national audience, carrying the Pack to one of its most meaningful wins in the O'Brien era.
CFN Prediction: NC State 26 … Cincinnati 21 … Line: NC State -2
Must See Rating: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps – 5 … The Event - 1 … 3